We stayed one night in the (wet, thundering) Grampians and two nights about an hour south of Mildura, below the New South Wales border. Before driving up to Broken Hill, home of mining giant BHP, we washed in the morning under a cold tap – it had been three days since we’d had both privacy and running water. The mornings around here – in the Victorian outback – are around 12 degrees Celsius in the fall. The sun isn’t warming this early. The day before, the afternoon hit 20 degrees in Mildura when we went for breakfast, and to buy socks from K-mart. Then we had tried to find the big Stanley wine cask – a huge painted shed – driving back and forth on the B79 in front of the grape refinery to eventually Google that the company had repainted the cask. “It doesn’t represent our brands,” the group public relations manager Anita Poddar said. Sunraysia Daily, Mildura’s local paper quoted Mildura Tourism CEO Rod Trowbridge that “Life will go on” without the giant wine cask – but will it really? This is the same Rod Trowbridge who said in the paper we read that morning that “it was essential for Mildura to have a presence in its biggest markets to be competitive with other popular destinations”. But what is Mildura without a giant wine cask 20 kilometres north?
Down the road from the “winery” was a honey stand, but we didn’t have the change to buy a $6 jar. Back in the park, where we had set up camp, we walked a trail, 15 or so kilometers. This is hiking different from what I’m used to: the land is flat, not mountainous, the flies are insistent, kangaroos blend into the landscape. There are no creeks to stop at, and no poison ivy to worry about. The dirt is orange and the brush is low. In sunset, the colors intensify, and it’s hard not to call it beautiful.
By the campfire, we looked at the stars. The Milky Way is a pallid swath across the length of the entire sky. Dan saw his first shooting star – falling big and nearby. We baked potatoes in the embers and drank wine. Later, we had s’mores and dumped the last of our wine onto the dying fire, and brushed our teeth at the tap.